By MAYA RAJAMANI
August 26, 2016
HELL’S KITCHEN — On Sept. 11, 2001, more than 200 airplanes scheduled to land in the U.S. were diverted into Canada as part of the country’s “Operation Yellow Ribbon.”
Thirty-eight of those planes landed at an airport in Gander, Newfoundland, where community institutions and townspeople set up cots and donated platters of food for the more than 6,000 passengers who landed there.
“No one asked [the people of Gander] to do it — no one required them to do it,” said Maria Jaffe, a docent at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum.
She and a small, independent group of docents from the museum and the 9/11 Tribute Center, as well as people who lost loved ones on 9/11, will travel to Gander this September to mark the 15th anniversary of the attacks.
Councilman Corey Johnson’s office connected the docents with summer campers at the Hartley House — a community center on West 46th Street in Hell’s Kitchen — who decorated wooden stars that the group will bring to the town.
“If you speak to any that were there [in Gander], they said they were amazing, they were in awe, they were humbled by how human beings could be so kind to so many thousands of other human beings,” Jaffe said. “[The stars will] serve as beacons of hope and compassion for all to see.”
Jaffe and her group will hang the stars in the schools, synagogues, churches and diners that lent their services to the unexpected visitors a decade and a half ago ago, she said.
She and Johnson spoke with students who painted the stars at Hartley House on Thursday, before she packed them up to bring to Gander.
“I wasn’t alive when President Kennedy was assassinated, but it’s something we all know about,” Johnson said. “For folks that were in New York during 9/11, that were alive during 9/11, everyone sort of remembers where they were when it actually happened.”
While the student artists — who range in age from 10 to 13 — didn’t live through 9/11, many had memories of the date that family members shared with them.
One girl told of a relative who was on the 100th floor of the towers on Sept. 11 but managed to escape.
Another girl’s mother’s best friend was also in one of the towers that day, she said.
“It’s really wonderful that you were all able to participate even though you didn’t experience the event yourselves,” Johnson told the students.
The project was done in conjunction with Stars of Hope, which sends wooden stars painted by children to places that have dealt with tragedy and destruction, Jaffe said.
Students “loved the idea” of making the stars to thank the people of Gander, said Mia Muratore, the program’s after-school and summer camp director.
“When they saw all the stars, and just what they did for these people in disasters… they got very creative with it, and they just thought it was great,” she said.
“It’s such a beautiful message that [the] children are giving to the world,” Jaffe added. “If children learn that at a young age, it will follow them through life.”